A friend was wandering around town a few days ago and encountered what he thought was a cult. They were handing out flyers and offering free food while inviting people to join their meeting that was happening down the street. He decided to follow them because he had been looking for a church and decided to try these guys out.
During the meeting, they mentioned a couple of key things that set his alarm bells off. After the meeting, we caught up and debriefed about what happened. After identifying some key issues, he determined that they were not a Christ-centered group and decided not to return.
Now, he dodged getting entangled with some unsavoury people through the grace of God, but how many of us pause to consider what we know and how we know it? Are the people we associate with honest and trustworthy?
Knowing what isn’t the gospel
This friend’s story reminded me of Galatians. Paul was advocating for the Galatians to remain in the truth and freedom of the gospel and not get sucked down rabbit holes that some other teachers were advocating for. Like Paul, we need to understand the gospel well enough to know what isn’t of the gospel.
There are far more cults and bad teaching out there than I can adequately address (even if I were writing a 1000+ page book!). However, knowing the truth is a great way to hone our senses to detect lies and false truths.
Sola Fide – Faith Alone
So, what does Paul advocate for here? The rallying cry of the Reformation was “Faith alone” – and it is the same with Paul.
“yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians chapter 2, verse 16)
Galatians chapter 2, verse 16 sums up Paul’s thought perfectly – it is purely through faith in Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross that we are saved. Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died so that we could be the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 21). His subsequent resurrection proved that his sacrifice was acceptable, and he now stands as proof of the new life we can have.
By faith, if we acknowledge Jesus’ sacrifice for us, his resurrection, and his lordship over our lives, we are saved. The moment anyone adds any other qualifiers, our alarm bells should start ringing.
Faith and Works?
How do we reconcile the epistle of James that talks about works then? In Galatians chapter 2, verse 16 – the very same verse earlier – Paul addresses this too. The negative of the sentence is not acting on the works aspect, but on the law. Paul was refuting works of the law – ergo, works that try to earn salvation. He was not refuting the concept of works, because he also authored Ephesians chapter 2, verse 10 which talks about us being made for good works!
Rather, good works flow as a sign of our salvation and our sanctification. We are saved by faith alone. Cults typically link work to salvation too, but we are not saved through works. We need to get the order right friends. Faith, alignment, and loyalty to Jesus Christ is what saves us. Works comes as the fruit of our salvation. In the same vein as Genesis chapter 12, verse 3, we have been blessed with salvation and new life so that we can be a blessing of salvation and new life to those around us.
How does this feed my lived experience
Paul was someone whose entire life was based around works and earning salvation through those works. Yet, now he says that it is through faith alone. We should take that to heart too. What does living this out look like in our everyday life?
Personally, it gives me far more hope and assurance of my salvation. I see my own sinfulness daily, and it sparks doubts of my salvation. Yet, if I’m saved by faith alone, and I know Jesus has paid fully for my sins, I can rest in that truth – assured that I am fully saved. Out of that assurance and gratitude, I am in a much healthier place to address the sin in my life because I want others to experience the joy and blessing that I have experienced too.
Friends, this this the liberating truth of the gospel that we can use to fight against the lies of the enemy and of the world. We need to continue dwelling in the good news of Jesus Christ and letting it shape and transform our lives.
I disciple university students in the University of Canterbury through the Navigators while currently working towards a Master of Divinity. Outside of this, my wife and I enjoy rock climbing and going on adventures with our dog.